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Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons


Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a criminal offense, and conviction carries a maximum sentence of 15 years; in the absence of a specific domestic violence law, general rape statutes applied to the prosecution of spousal rape. Domestic violence was similarly prosecuted under general statutes dealing with violence.

Spousal abuse and violence against women appeared widespread. According to the Asian Development Bank’s July 2015 Armenia Gender Assessment, gender-based violence, especially domestic violence, was one of the most critical problems faced by women in the country. Surveys by the government and women’s organizations confirmed the assessment that domestic violence was widespread, affecting between 25 to 66 percent of women (depending how broad the definition of domestic violence). Authorities did not effectively prosecute domestic violence.

Rape, spousal abuse, and domestic violence was underreported due to social stigma, the absence of female police officers and investigators, and at times police reluctance to act. According to local observers, most domestic violence was not reported because survivors were afraid of physical harm, apprehensive that police would return them to their husbands, or ashamed to disclose their family problems. There were also reports that police, especially outside of Yerevan, were reluctant to act in such cases and discouraged women from filing complaints. A majority of domestic violence cases were considered under the law as offenses of low or medium seriousness. In such instances a survivor might decline to press charges or perpetrators pressured them to withdraw charges or recant previous testimony.

Two local NGOs, the Women’s Support Center and the Women’s Rights Center, maintained domestic violence hotlines and three shelters and provided various services to the victim. The shelters were insufficient to meet the needs of all victims in the country. While international funding sustained the shelters, there were few realistic alternatives for sustainable, local funding.

Between 2010 and 2015, the Coalition to Stop Violence against Women recorded the killing of 30 women by an existing or former partner or a family member. According to a coalition study published in May, many of these women had sought help from family or state institutions before being killed. Local organizations maintained that police inaction and lenient sentences for partners convicted of abuse contributed to such deaths. During the year there were several instances in which courts reportedly issued minimal fines to husbands who had abused their wives for years.

On July 8, Vladik Martirosyan attacked his former wife, Taguhi Mansuryan, and her parents with an axe. Mansuryan’s mother died immediately, while Mansuryan and her father were hospitalized in serious condition. Martirosyan was previously convicted of domestic abuse but received a six-month suspended sentence.

Sexual Harassment: Although the law addresses lewd acts and indecent behavior, it does not specifically prohibit sexual harassment. While recent public data on the extent of the problem was unavailable, observers believed sexual harassment of women in the workplace was widespread. According to the Asian Development Bank’s Armenia Gender Assessment, sexual harassment in the workplace was a factor limiting women’s job choices and opportunities for advancement.

Reproductive Rights: The law gives couples and individuals the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have the information and means necessary to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. The husband and his parents often made decisions the spacing and timing of a couple’s children. Skilled attendance during childbirth was more accessible in large towns and other population centers where birthing facilities were located. There were reports that women, especially in rural or remote areas, had insufficient access to general and reproductive health care services. In its 2014 report, the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR) expressed concern regarding the limited availability of contraception.

Discrimination: Men and women enjoy equal legal status in the judicial system, but discrimination based on gender was a continuing problem in both the public and private sectors. There were reports of discrimination against women with respect to occupation and employment (see section 7.d.). Women remained underrepresented in leadership positions in all branches and at all levels of government (see section 3).

CESCR’s report expressed concern regarding deeply rooted patriarchal attitudes and stereotypes regarding the role of women and men in the family and in society. According to gender experts, the education system at all levels reinforced these attitudes. A 2015 World Bank study examined teaching materials and textbooks of high school classes and found the books gave strong preference to men in all forms of representation, including texts and illustrations, while women were less visible or portrayed in stereotypical way.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to the National Statistical Service, the boy to girl sex-at-birth ratio decreased from 114 to 100 in 2014 and from 112 to 100 for the first half of the year. In May 2015 the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs approved a mid-term program to prevent sex selective abortions, establishing a working group to coordinate governmental efforts in this regard. According to the UN Population Fund, joint programs by the government and international and local NGOs to increase awareness of this problem accounted for the slightly positive improvement in the first half of the year.


Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from one or both parents. Birth registration is the responsibility of parents, who must present the birth certificate to the hospital before checking out. Absence of a birth certificate could result in denial of public services.

Education: Although education is free and compulsory through grade nine, in practice it was not universal. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), children with disabilities and from socially vulnerable families faced systematic disadvantages in their access to schools and to the use of educational services (see Persons with Disabilities, below). Children from disadvantaged families and communities lacked access to early learning programs, despite government efforts to raise preschool enrollment. Enrollment and attendance rates for children from ethnic minority groups, in particular Yezidis, Kurds, and Molokans, were significantly lower than average, and dropout rates after the eighth grade were higher. UNICEF expressed concern about the integration into the local community of an increasing number of refugee children from Syria, Iraq, and Ukraine. Poor school infrastructure, particularly for preschools, including inadequate heating, water, and sanitation, remained a problem, with vast majority of school buildings not complying with basic safety standards.

Child Abuse: Although comprehensive statistics on violence against children were unavailable, such violence appeared to be a problem, especially for those living in institutions and in socially vulnerable families. Irregular exchanges of fire between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces put children living in border areas at risk of injury or death. According to UNICEF, the lack of official, unified data on violence against children limited the government’s ability to design adequate national responses and preventive measures. There were no official referral procedures for children who became victims of violence, including sexual violence, and referrals were not mandatory for professionals working with children, excluding doctors.

The Women’s Resource Center noted an increase in sexual assault against minors and that the victims assisted were younger than in the previous years. The center also reported instances in which young victims were stigmatized, mocked in their communities, and expelled from school.

Early and Forced Marriage: According to UNICEF, 7 percent of children (both boys and girls) married by age 18, the legal minimum age. Early marriage of girls was reportedly more frequent within the Yezidi communities, but the government took no measures to document the scale or address the practice.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Antitrafficking statutes prohibit the sexual exploitation of children and carry sentences of seven to 15 years in prison, depending on whether aggravating circumstances are present. Child pornography is punishable by imprisonment for up to seven years. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16.

Institutionalized Children: The government maintained 36 residential facilities housing approximately 3,800 children, the majority of whom had at least one living parent. Experts believed corruption and poverty were the primary impediments to deinstitutionalization, since the government based its funding for institutions on the number of residents, and many families were unable to financially support their children’s needs. On average the government spent more than 5.46 billion drams ($13 million) annually to maintain such institutions. According to UNICEF and other observers, institutionalized children were at risk of physical and psychological violence by peers and by staff. UNICEF notified state officials regarding numerous violations of food and health standards, but authorities made few improvements. The government worked with UNICEF and NGOs, using foreign funds, to reduce the number of children in institutions and to establish community and family-based alternatives as well as inclusive schools for children with special needs.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at


Observers estimated the country’s Jewish population to be between 500 and 1,000 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with any disability in employment, education, and access to health care and other state services, but discrimination remained a problem. The law and a special government decree require both new buildings and those under renovation, including schools, to be accessible to persons with disabilities. Very few buildings or other facilities were accessible, even if newly constructed or renovated. Many public buildings including schools and kindergartens were inaccessible which also deterred persons with disabilities from voting, since these buildings often served as polling stations during elections. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities but failed to carry out this mandate effectively.

According to a 2012 UNICEF survey, one in five children with disabilities did not attend school. This was due to both discrimination and the lack of facilities to accommodate their needs. In 2014 CESCR reported that, in spite of state efforts to expand the network of inclusive schools, officials did not fully implement the policy. The law requires all public schools to become inclusive by 2025.

Persons with all types of disabilities experienced discrimination in every sphere, including access to health care, social and psychological rehabilitation, education, transportation, communication, employment, social protection, cultural events, and use of the internet. Lack of access to information and communications was a particularly significant problem for persons with sensory disabilities.

Women with disabilities faced further discrimination, including in social acceptance and access to health and reproductive care, employment, and education, due to their gender.

Hospitals, residential care, and other facilities for persons with more significant disabilities remained substandard.

According to official data, more than 90 percent of persons with disabilities who were able to work were unemployed. In July 2015 the government introduced mandatory quotas for the employment of persons with disabilities for both public and private firms employing more than 100 persons.

Media reports alleged corruption and arbitrary rulings on the part of the Medical-social Expertise Commission, a governmental body under the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs that determines a person’s disability status. Disability status, in turn, determines eligibility for various social benefits.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Antidiscrimination laws do not apply to sexual orientation or gender identity. There were no hate crime laws or other criminal judicial mechanisms to aid in the prosecution of crimes against members of the LGBTI community. Societal attitudes toward LGBTI persons remained highly negative, with society generally viewing homosexuality as a medical affliction. Societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity negatively affected all aspects of life, including employment, housing, family relations, and access to education and health care. Transgender persons were especially vulnerable to physical and psychological abuse and harassment.

According to an assessment during the year by the NGO New Generation, transgender individuals desiring to undergo sex change procedures faced obstacles that included negative attitudes, lack of information, and absence of legal regulations. This led to numerous medical and other problems tied to the administration of hormones without medical supervision, underground surgeries, and problems obtaining passports and documenting a change in gender identity.

In May the NGO Public Information and Need of Knowledge (PINK Armenia) published its annual review of the human rights situation of LGBTI persons for 2015. According to the review, leading political party representatives and media affiliated with authorities employed “hate speech” toward members of the LGBTI community. Antigay rhetoric intensified during public discussions prior to the December 2015 referendum on constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriages. According to the review, LGBTI persons experienced physical violence and threats of violence, blackmail, and harassment. Police were unresponsive to reports of such abuses and at times themselves mistreated LGBTI individuals, following and harassing them. According to the review, authorities did not prosecute a single hate crime complaint filed with police in 2015. LGBTI persons were also reluctant to report violations to relevant bodies due to fears of exposure and additional discriminatory treatment because of their complaint.

According to media reports, during a November 6 parliamentary discussion, three members of parliament (MP) from the ruling RPA, including the deputy speaker of the parliament, engaged in anti-LGBTI rhetoric, with one MP making a joke encouraging physical violence against LGBTI individuals.

According to PINK Armenia, in May a Karin folk dance group instructor, Harut Baghdasaryan, expelled Armenian-American dancer Kyle Khanidkyan after finding out that he was gay. According to media reports, the instructor told Khanidkyan that he did not belong to the “nation,” that he was “not Armenian,” and had no right to dance Armenian dances because he was gay.

Elements of media disseminated anti-LGBTI propaganda. LGBTI activists as well as human rights defenders working in the field received threats via social media and to be targets of hate speech.

Openly gay men were exempt from military service, purportedly because of concern that fellow soldiers would abuse them. An exemption, however, required a medical finding based on a psychological examination indicating an individual had a mental disorder; this information appeared in the individual’s personal identification documents and was an obstacle to employment and to obtaining a driver’s license. Gay men who served in the army reportedly faced physical and psychological abuse as well as blackmail.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

In the most recent demographic and health survey (conducted in 2010), approximately 86 percent of women and 84 percent of men reported having discriminatory attitudes towards persons with HIV/AIDS.

According to human rights groups, persons regarded as vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, such as sex workers (including transgender sex workers) and drug users, faced discrimination and violence from society as well as mistreatment by police.

The NGO Real World Real Life registered cases of men infected with HIV/AIDS during migrant work abroad who hid their condition from their wives. Having infected their wives, these men reportedly forbade them from seeking help and medication, although the men themselves underwent treatment. The NGO maintained that this was a manifestation of both domestic abuse and the social stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. A January 24 story on the website discussed the plight of an HIV/AIDS-infected pregnant woman who experienced significant discrimination from medical personnel throughout her pregnancy, including segregation from other patients and the unwillingness of medical personnel to provide her medical assistance while she was giving birth.


Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons


Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and the government enforced the law effectively. The laws of individual states and territories provide the penalties for rape. Maximum penalties range from 12 years’ to life imprisonment, depending on the jurisdiction and aggravating factors.

The law prohibits violence against women, including domestic abuse, and the government enforced the law. Violence against women remained a problem, particularly in indigenous communities.

According to the government, approximately one in three women experienced physical violence, and nearly one in five experienced sexual violence since the age of 15 years. In July the ABS reported that in 2015 police recorded 21,380 cases of sexual assault, of which 82 percent of the victims were women. Two-thirds of sexual assaults occurred in a residential location.

In 2015, there were 158 homicides linked to family and domestic violence; 103 of the victims were female. In September 2015, in its first major policy initiative, the government under Prime Minister Turnbull announced a policy package of A$100 million ($75 million) to address the threat of domestic violence, particularly against women. Federal and state governments funded programs to combat domestic violence and provide support for victims, including funding for numerous women’s shelters. Police received training in responding to domestic violence. Federal, state, and territorial governments collaborated on the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-22, the first effort to coordinate action at all levels of government to reduce violence against women.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is a criminal act in all states and territories of the country, and these laws apply extraterritoriality to protect citizens or residents from being subjected to FGM/C overseas. In June a court sentenced a Muslim leader to at least 11 months in jail for covering up FGM/C offenses against two sisters in Wollongong and Sydney between 2009 and 2012. The court sentenced the girls’ mother, and the woman who carried out the procedure, to 11 months home detention. It was the country’s first FGM/C trial. In 2013 the government held a national summit on FGM/C and subsequently announced a National Compact on Female Genital Mutilation. In 2013 the government announced it would provide A$1 million ($750,000) for 15 new projects aimed at ending FGM/C among citizens whether they lived domestically or abroad.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment. Complaints of sexual harassment can lead to criminal proceedings or disciplinary action against the defendant and compensation claims by the plaintiff. The HRC receives complaints of sexual harassment as well as sex discrimination. The HRC received 212 complaints of sexual harassment during 2014-15; however, separate statistics on resolution of harassment complaints were not available.

An independent review of the Victoria Police Department released in December 2015 found workplace sexual harassment to be an endemic problem despite more than 30 years of legislation prohibiting sex based discrimination. The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission found evidence that of more than 5,000 participants surveyed, 40 percent of women and 7 percent of men had experienced sexual harassment. The review found evidence of chronic underreporting with victims afraid of negative professional and personal consequences resulting from making a complaint.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and to have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. State and territorial governments provided comprehensive sex education and sexual health and family planning services. Women had access to contraception and skilled medical care, including essential prenatal, obstetric, and postpartum care. Indigenous persons in isolated communities had more difficulty accessing such services than the population in general. Cultural factors and language barriers also inhibited use of sexual health and family planning services by indigenous persons, and rates of sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancy among the indigenous population were higher than among the general population.

Discrimination: The law provided for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including under laws related to family, religion, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance, as well as employment, credit, pay, owning and/or managing businesses, education, and housing. Employment discrimination against women occurred, and there was a much-publicized “gender pay gap” (see section 7.d.). The HRC received 453 complaints under the Sex Discrimination Act from 2014-15, including 358 from women.

There were well-organized and effective public and private women’s rights organizations at the federal, state, and local levels. The federal sex discrimination commissioner of the HRC undertakes research, formulates policy, and conducts educational work designed to eliminate gender discrimination. The Office for Women, under the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, focuses on reducing violence against women, promoting women’s economic security, and enhancing the status of women.


Birth Registration: Children are citizens if at least one parent is a citizen or permanent resident at the time of the child’s birth; however, being physically born within the country does not confer citizenship on a child. Children born in the country to parents who are not citizens or permanent residents acquire citizenship on their 10th birthday, if they lived the majority of their life within the country. In general births were registered promptly.

Child Abuse: State and territorial child protection agencies investigate and initiate prosecutions of persons for child neglect or abuse. All states and territories have laws or guidelines that require members of certain designated professions to report suspected child abuse or neglect. The federal government’s role in the prevention of child abuse includes funding for research, carrying out education campaigns, developing action plans against commercial exploitation of children, and funding community-based parenting programs. The federal government’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse released an interim report in 2014, which included the personal stories of 150 abused persons. In August 2015 the commission released recommendations on background checks for persons working with children and, in September 2015 released recommendations on redress and civil litigation. It continued to conduct hearings during the year.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, a national agency that maintains health statistics and information, there were 42,457 children in substantiated abuse or neglect cases during 2014-15. The rate remained unchanged between 2012-13 and 2014-15 at approximately eight per 1,000 children. The rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children on care and protection orders was approximately seven times greater than the nonindigenous rate.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 for both boys and girls. A person between 16 and 18 years may apply to a judge or magistrate in a state or territory for an order authorizing marriage to a person who has attained 18 years, but the marriage of the minor still requires parental or guardian consent. Two persons younger than 18 years may not marry each other. Although no statistics were available, reports of marriages involving a person younger than 18 years were rare. There were reports forced marriage sometimes occurred.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides for a maximum penalty of 25 years’ imprisonment for commercial sexual exploitation of children. There were documented cases of children younger than 18 years subjected to commercial sexual exploitation.

The law prohibits citizens and residents from engaging in, facilitating, or benefiting from sexual activity with children overseas who are younger than 16 years and provides for a maximum sentence of 17 years’ imprisonment for violations. The government continued its awareness campaign to deter child sex tourism through distribution of pamphlets to citizens and residents traveling overseas.

The legal age for consensual sex is 16 years in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, the Northern Territory, Victoria, and Western Australia and 17 years in Tasmania and South Australia. In Queensland the age of consent for anal sex is 18 years, while the age of consent for all other sexual acts is 16 years. Maximum penalties for violations vary across jurisdictions. Defenses include reasonable grounds for believing the alleged victim was older than the legal age of consent and situations in which the two persons are close in age.

All states and territories criminalize the possession, production, and distribution of child pornography. In New South Wales; however, the law prohibiting child abuse material, including child pornography applies only to children younger than 16 years, and in South Australia the law prohibiting child exploitation material, including child pornography, only applies to children younger than 17 years. Maximum penalties for these offenses range from four to 21 years’ imprisonment. Federal laws criminalize using a “carriage service” (for example, the internet) for the purpose of possessing, producing, and supplying child pornography. The maximum penalty for these offenses is 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine of A$275,000 ($206,000), or both. Under federal law suspected pedophiles can be tried in the country regardless of where the crime was committed. The AFP worked with its international partners to identify and charge persons involved in online exploitation of children.

The government largely continued federal emergency intervention measures initiated in 2007 to combat child sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. These measures included emergency bans on sales of alcohol and pornography, restrictions on the payment of welfare benefits in cash, linkage of support payments to school attendance, and medical examinations for all indigenous children younger than 16 years in the Northern Territory. In 2012 parliament extended most of these interventions through 2022.

While public reaction to the interventions remained generally positive, some Aboriginal activists asserted there was inadequate consultation and the measures were racially discriminatory, since nonindigenous persons in the Northern Territory were not initially subject to such restrictions.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. For information see the Department of State’s report on compliance at


According to the 2011 census, the country’s Jewish community numbered 97,300 persons. During the 12-month period ending in September 2015, the nongovernmental Executive Council of Australian Jewry reported 190 anti-Semitic incidents logged by the council, Jewish community umbrella groups in each state, and the Australian Capital Territory, and community security groups. These incidents included vandalism, harassment, and physical and verbal assaults. In early April vandals spray-painted several swastikas on Marouba Synagogue in Sydney and on nearby bus stop signs. The synagogue’s Rabbi Friedman described the incident as “an assault against Jewish people and directed towards those in my community.”

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment; education; access to premises; access to air travel and other forms of transport; provision of goods, services (including health services), and facilities; accommodation; purchase of land; activities of clubs and associations; sport; the judicial system; and the administration of federal laws and programs. The government effectively enforced the law.

The disability discrimination commissioner of the HRC promotes compliance with federal laws that prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities. The commissioner also promotes implementation and enforcement of state laws that require equal access to buildings and otherwise protect the rights of persons with disabilities, including providing equal access to communications and information. The law also provides for mediation by the HRC of discrimination complaints, authorizes fines against violators, and awards damages to victims of discrimination.

Schools are required to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act, and children with disabilities generally attended school. The federal government’s Better Start for Children with Disability initiative provided up to A$12,000 ($9,000) per person for early intervention services and treatment for eligible children with disabilities. The government also cooperated with state and territorial governments that ran programs to assist students with disabilities. The 2015 budget increased federal funding for students with disabilities to a record A$1.3 billion ($974 million) for 2015-16 and more than A$5 billion ($3.75 billion) over 2014-17. The government announced a National Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability so that all students with disability receive funding on the same basis.

The HRC’s annual report stated that 740 complaints, citing 846 alleged grounds of discrimination, were filed under the Disability Discrimination Act during 2014-15. Of these, 34 percent related to employment, and 37 percent involved the provision of goods and services (see section 7.d.). The HRC resolved 772 complaints during the period, including 376 through conciliation.

In 2013 the government launched the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), a national disability insurance program and allocated a budget of A$14.3 billion ($10.7 billion) to the program. On June 30, the NDIS began across the country following a trial involving 30,000 people.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

According to its annual report, the HRC received 561 complaints under the Racial Discrimination Act during 2014-15, citing 1,070 alleged grounds of discrimination. Of these, 18 percent involved employment, 15 percent involved provision of goods and services, and 18 percent alleged “racial hatred.” The HRC reported resolution of 405 complaints, including 202 through conciliation (see section 7.d.).

Indigenous People

According to the 2011 census, Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders constituted 2.5 percent of the total population.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders hold special collective native title rights in limited areas of the country. Aboriginal Land Rights and Native Title Acts at the federal and state levels enable indigenous groups to claim unused government land. Indigenous ownership of land was predominantly in nonurban areas. Indigenous-owned or -controlled land constituted approximately 20 percent of the country’s area (excluding native title lands) and nearly 50 percent of the land in the Northern Territory. The National Native Title Tribunal resolves native land title applications through mediation and acts as an arbitrator in cases where the parties cannot reach agreement about proposed mining or other development of land. Under a 2002 High Court ruling, native title rights do not extend to mineral or petroleum resources and, in cases where leaseholder rights and native title rights are in conflict, leaseholder rights prevail but do not extinguish native title rights.

The Indigenous Land Corporation, established in 1995, provides a continuing source of funds for indigenous persons to acquire or manage land for the benefit of indigenous persons. It has acquired 250 properties and added more than 5.8 million hectares to the indigenous estate. It receives a minimum annual payment of A$45 million ($34 million) from the Land Account, which had a balance of A$2.014 billion ($1.5 billion) at the end of June 2015. The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet administer the Land Account. It is separate from the National Native Title Tribunal and is not for payment of compensation to indigenous persons for loss of land or to titleholders for return of land to indigenous persons.

As part of the intervention to address child sexual abuse in Northern Territory indigenous communities (see section 6, Children), in 2007 the government took control of 64 indigenous communities through five-year land leases. The federal government’s Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory plan begun in 2012 repealed the emergency response and provided for negotiation of voluntary long-term leases. The Indigenous Advancement Strategy administered by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, which began in 2014, allocated indigenous-specific federal funding of A$4.9 billion ($3.7 billion) for a period of four years. Additionally, authorities allocated A$3.7 billion ($2.8 billion) through National Partnership Agreements, Special Accounts, and Special Appropriations. Funding was also available through indigenous-specific and mainstream programs delivered by other agencies.

In 2013 parliament unanimously passed an act of recognition intended to build momentum for a future referendum for constitutional recognition of indigenous people. The new government supported constitutional recognition of indigenous people and was working toward a referendum to achieve this aim. The portfolio of indigenous affairs had cabinet-level status, and indigenous policy coordination shifted to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Since 2008 the prime minister has reported annually to parliament on the government’s progress on eliminating indigenous inequalities. In February the prime minister reported mixed results in the eight years since the government set Closing the Gap targets, with advancements in education and child mortality, but slower progress in employment and life expectancy.

According to the ABS, as of March the rate of imprisonment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals was 11.4 times higher than the national imprisonment rate, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners represented 27 percent of the full-time adult prisoner population. The Ministry for Indigenous Affairs reported in October indigenous children and teenagers were 24 times more likely to be imprisoned than the nonindigenous population, while indigenous women are 30 times more likely to be incarcerated. Nearly half of the imprisoned indigenous persons were serving sentences for violent offenses.

The ABS reported Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals experienced disproportionately high levels of domestic violence, with hospitalization for family-related assault 28 times more likely for indigenous men and 34 times more likely for indigenous women than the rest of the country’s population. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, life expectancy for indigenous men was an estimated 69.1 years, compared to 79.7 years for nonindigenous men; life expectancy for indigenous women was an estimated 73.7 years, compared to 83.1 years for nonindigenous women; and the indigenous unemployment rate was 17 percent, compared to approximately 5 percent for the nonindigenous population.

The Productivity Commission’s 2012 Indigenous Expenditure Reportestimated that total direct indigenous expenditure in 2010-11 was A$25.4 billion ($19 billion). This resulted in expenditures of A$44,128 ($33,100) per indigenous citizen, compared to A$19,589 ($14,700) for other citizens. The report found the difference was due to “greater intensity of service use” and “additional costs of providing services.”

The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, established in 2012, is the national representative body for Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders. Government funding for it ceased in 2014. The HRC has an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

There are no laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited by law in a wide range of areas, including in employment, housing, family law, taxes, child support, immigration, pensions, care of elderly persons, and social security.

The law provides protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and intersex status.

The HRC received 34 complaints of discrimination based on sexual orientation during 2014-15.

In 2014 Victoria and New South Wales passed laws to expunge convictions related to consensual sex between men. In May, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews apologized to citizens convicted of homosexual acts. Following the federal election, the opposition Australian Labor Party announced its first federal “shadow minister” for equality.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

In June media reported vandals set a car on fire and sprayed anti-Muslim graffiti on a wall outside a Perth mosque. Earlier that month, someone left a pig’s head near the entrance of another mosque in Perth and parts of a pig in a nearby Islamic school.


Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons


Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal and carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. During the year the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported 31 cases of rape and 62 cases of violence of a sexual nature. The ministry stated that 54 persons had been brought to trial for these offenses.

The law establishes a framework for the investigation of domestic violence complaints, defines a process to issue restraining orders, and calls for the establishment of a shelter and rehabilitation center for survivors. Some critics of the domestic violence law asserted that a lack of clear implementing guidelines reduced its effectiveness. Female members of the Milli Mejlis and the head of the State Committee for Family, Women, and Children Affairs (SCFWCA) continued their activities against domestic violence. The committee conducted public awareness campaigns and worked to improve the socioeconomic situation of domestic violence survivors.

Women had limited recourse against assaults by their husbands or others, particularly in rural areas.

The government and an independent NGO each ran a shelter providing assistance and counseling to victims of trafficking and domestic violence.

Sexual Harassment: The government rarely enforced the prohibition of sexual harassment. The SCFWCA worked extensively on women’s problems, including organizing and hosting several conferences that raised awareness of sexual harassment and domestic violence.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Contraception was widely available, but demographic surveys showed low levels of use. Patriarchal norms based on cultural, historical, and socioeconomic factors in some cases limited women’s reproductive rights.

Discrimination: Although women nominally enjoyed the same legal rights as men, societal discrimination was a problem. Traditional social norms and lagging economic development in rural regions restricted women’s roles in the economy, and there were reports women had difficulty exercising their legal rights due to gender discrimination. There was discrimination against women in employment (see section 7.d.). The SCFWCA conducted public-media campaigns to raise awareness of women’s rights.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: The gender ratio of children born in the country was 114 boys for 100 girls, according to the UN Population Fund. Local experts reported that gender-biased sex selection was widespread, predominantly in rural regions. The SCFWCA conducted seminars and public media campaigns to raise awareness of the problem.


Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth within the country or from their parents. Registration at birth was routine for births in hospitals or clinics. Some children born at home (for example, to Romani or impoverished families) were not registered, and statelessness for those children was a problem. The Ministries of Internal Affairs and Justice registered undocumented children after identifying them as a population vulnerable to trafficking.

Education: While education was compulsory, free, and universal until the age of 17, large families in impoverished rural areas sometimes placed a higher priority on the education of boys and kept girls in the home to work. Some poor families forced their children to work or beg rather than attend school. Although the country scored well in adult literacy and achieving gender parity indexes in the UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report, it fell either “very far from target” or “far from target” in preprimary, primary, and lower secondary education enrollment projections for the year.

Child Abuse: During the year the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported 179 cases of violence against minors, including six cases of rape involving underage victims, 47 cases of minors subjected to sexual acts, and two cases of forced prostitution. According to the ministry, 139 persons were brought to trial in connection with these cases.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law provides that a girl may marry at the age of 18 or at 17 with local authorities’ permission. The law further states that a boy may marry at the age of 18. The Caucasus Muslim Board defines 18 as the marriage age, but the fatwa failed to have much effect on religious marriage contracts (kabin or kabin-nama).

The criminal code establishes fines of 3,000 to 4,000 manat ($1,670 to $2,220) or imprisonment of up to four years for conviction of the crime of forced marriage with underage children. According to the UN special rapporteur, in 2014 forced marriages of underage girls remained a problem and continued to endanger their lives. A 2014 UN Population Fund report stated that 12 percent of girls were married by the age of 18.

NGOs reported that the number of early marriages continued to increase. Girls who married under the terms of religious marriage contracts were of particular concern, since these were not subject to government oversight and do not entitle the wife to recognition of her status in case of divorce. The Social Union of Solidarity among Women reported numerous instances in which men moved to Russia for work, leaving their underage wives in the country.

The SCFWCA conducted activities in IDP and refugee communities to prevent early marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits pornography; its production, distribution, or advertisement is punishable by three years’ imprisonment. Statutory rape is defined as “the sexual relations or other actions of a sexual nature, committed by a person who has reached 18, with a person who has not reached 16” and is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment. Recruitment of minors for prostitution (involving a minor in immoral acts) is punishable by three to five years in prison, although the presence of aggravating factors, such as violence, could increase the potential sentence to five to eight years.

A Baku group working with street children reported that boys and girls at times engaged in prostitution and street begging.

Displaced Children: A large number of refugee and internally displaced children lived in substandard conditions. In some cases, these children were unable to attend school.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. . See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at


The country’s Jewish community was estimated to be between 20,000 and 30,000 individuals. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other state services, but the government did not enforce these provisions effectively. Employment discrimination remained a problem (see section 7.d.).

A common belief persisted that children with disabilities were ill and needed to be separated from other children and institutionalized, but specific educational facilities were available to children with some disabilities, for example, those with vision disabilities. Children with certain disabilities, including autism, received no education benefits or allowances. A local NGO reported there were approximately 60,000 children with disabilities in the country, of whom 6,000 to 10,000 had access to specialized educational facilities, while the rest were educated at home or not at all. The ability of children with disabilities to attend school was based on several factors, such as an evaluation by a medical committee, the type of disability, and the resources and physical structure of the family and the desired school. No laws mandate access to public or other buildings, information, or communications for persons with disabilities, and most buildings were not accessible.

Conditions in facilities for persons with mental and other disabilities varied. Qualified staff, equipment, and supplies at times were lacking.

The Ministries of Health and of Labor and Social Welfare are responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Citizens of Armenian descent reported discrimination in employment (see section 7.d.). Some groups reported sporadic incidents of discrimination, restrictions on their ability to teach in their native languages, and harassment by local authorities. These groups included Talysh in the south, Lezghi in the north, and Meskhetians and Kurds.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Antidiscrimination laws exist but do not specifically cover lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals.

Societal intolerance, violence, and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity remained a problem. A local NGO reported that there were numerous incidents of police brutality against individuals based on sexual orientation and noted that authorities did not investigate or punish those responsible. There were also reports of family-based violence against LGBTI individuals and hostile Facebook postings on personal online accounts. A local organization reported that in the first eight months of the year, one gay and two transgender persons were killed and one transvestite committed suicide. In October media reported an attack on a group of LGBTI persons in the Baku City metro.

LGBTI individuals refused to file formal complaints of discrimination or mistreatment with law enforcement bodies due to fear of social stigma or retaliation. An NGO reported police indifference to investigating crimes committed against the LGBTI community.

There was societal prejudice and employment discrimination (see section 7.d.) against LGBTI persons.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

In the country’s most recent demographic and health survey (2006), 80 percent of women and 92 percent of men reported discriminatory attitudes towards persons with HIV. The World Health Organization’s Review of the HIV Program in Azerbaijan (2014) noted that discriminatory attitudes and overall lack of information about HIV/AIDS remained high. The issue was addressed in the Azerbaijan National Strategic Plan for HIV 2016-2020.


Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons


The law specifically prohibits certain forms of discrimination against women, provides special procedures for prosecuting persons accused of violence against women and children, calls for harsh penalties for these offenses, provides compensation to victims, and requires action against investigating officers for negligence or willful failure of duty. Enforcement was weak. Laws regarding marriage, divorce, custody, and inheritance differed according to an individual’s religion and were often discriminatory toward women and girls.

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape and physical spousal abuse, but it does not criminalize marital rape. Rape can be punished by life imprisonment or the death penalty. Gender-based violence remained a serious challenge. The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) Report on Violence Against Women Survey 2015 released in October found that 80.2 percent of women were abused by a husband or male partner at least once in their lifetime, a finding lower than the 2011 survey in which 87.1 percent of women reported abuse. While the government operated a confidential helpline for reporting abuse, nationally only 2.4 percent of women and girls knew about it and only 2.6 percent took legal action according to the survey. Human rights organization Ain O Shalish Kendro (ASK) documented 101 killings of women by their husbands between January and June. Of the 442 rape cases recorded from January to August, 107 victims were between the ages of seven and 12 years of age. Twenty-three victims were killed after being raped, and six rape victims committed suicide. Admissions to treatment centers for victims of GBV indicated a 10 percent increase in rape and other violence against women in the third quarter of the year.

According to human rights monitors, many victims did not report rapes due to lack of access to legal services, social stigma, or fear of further harassment and the legal requirement to furnish witnesses. As a result, the prosecution of rapists was weak and inconsistent. Media reported that between 2001 and 2015, 22,386 women and children received treatment for rape and other violence at the government-run One Stop Crisis Centers located at 10 government hospitals. Of these, 5,003 cases were filed, resulting in 820 verdicts, and punishment for only 101 perpetrators.

A 2013 UN multiagency study on violence against women surveyed almost 2,400 men between the ages of 18 and 49 in one urban and one rural area of the country. According to the study, 55 percent of urban male respondents and 57 percent of rural respondents reported they themselves had perpetrated physical and/or sexual violence against women. The study concluded that the low prosecution rate of rapists supported a culture of impunity and encouraged further criminal acts by respondents who admitted to perpetrating rape. In total, 88 percent of rural respondents and 95 percent of urban respondents reported they faced no legal consequences for rape charges.

In October, 23-year-old Khadiza Begum Nargis, a student at Sylhet Government Women’s College, was hacked repeatedly on her head with a machete by Badrul Alam, a fourth-year student at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST) and the senior assistant secretary of SUST’s Bangladesh Chatra League unit. The attack was carried out on the campus of Murari Chand College where the victim had gone to take an exam. The attack was partially videotaped by a bystander with a mobile phone, and the clip went viral on social media, prompting outrage. While it appears that no one intervened during the attack, according to media reports, some bystanders chased Badrul when he tried to flee following the assault. Badrul confessed to hacking Khadiza with the intent to kill her after she refused his advances. Murari Chand College students formed a human-chain to protest the killing, while others took to Facebook and other social media platforms to vent their anger at the brutality of the attack and demand justice for Khadiza. The SUST administration expelled Badrul and formed a three-member committee to probe the incident. Badrul is in police custody and his trial was ongoing in December. Nargis survived the attack after emerging from a coma and continued to receive medical treatment at the end of the year.

The government operated a confidential hotline and 68 hospital-based crisis centers for survivors of domestic violence at the divisional, district, and sub-district levels where domestic violence survivors receive health care, police assistance, legal advice, and psychosocial counseling. There were some support groups for survivors of domestic violence. The number and capacity of legal aid services and shelter homes were inadequate compared to the need and were unsustainable given their reliance on project funding, according to the September Citizens’ Initiatives on the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women–Bangladesh (CIC-BD) Alternative Report.

In August, following advocacy by Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST) and other human rights groups, the High Court Division of the Supreme Court directed forensics experts to submit their opinions on the so-called “two-finger” rape test. During the test, a doctor assesses whether a woman has had sexual intercourse by inserting two fingers into her vagina to determine her “vaginal laxity” by checking for presence of the hymen. Human rights organizations and the broader medical community contend that the test is unscientific, has no forensic value, and retraumatizes survivors. Human rights organizations viewed the directive as a sign of progress toward ending the practice. Despite recent development of The National Action Plan to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls (2013-2025), human rights monitors, including CIC-BD, noted concern about the plan’s limited focus on prevention and resource allocation. In consultation with NGOs, the government established a committee to implement the plan.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Some NGOs reported violence against women related to disputes over dowries. In a current year report, the organization Bangladesh Mahila Parishad documented 302 women who were tortured due to dowry issues in the first nine months of 2015 and another 161 who were killed. In July, media reported that a husband beat his wife because he received a dowry of 80,000 taka ($1,016) and not the 100,000 taka ($1,270) that he had demanded. Police later arrested the man, and there was no further information about the outcome of the arrest at year’s end.

A Supreme Court Appellate Division ruling allows the use of fatwas (religious edicts) only to settle religious matters; fatwas may not be invoked to justify punishment, nor may they supersede secular law. Islamic tradition dictates that only those religious scholars with expertise in Islamic law may declare a fatwa. Despite these restrictions, village religious leaders sometimes made such declarations. The declarations resulted in extrajudicial punishments, often against women, for perceived moral transgressions. In August, following advocacy from BLAST, the Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development, and Cooperatives ordered district commissioners to mandate local councils to prevent extrajudicial punishments in their areas.

Incidents of vigilantism against women occurred, sometimes led by religious leaders enforcing fatwas. The incidents included whipping, beating, and other forms of physical violence. In August, media reported that a local council member in Rangpur named Aktar Hossain directed that a local woman and man be punished for an “extramarital affair” that occurred when the man broke into the woman’s house while her husband was gone. Without hearing testimony from the woman, the council member determined that she be caned 101 times by her husband before 400 assembled villagers while the council member caned the man 20 times.

Acid attacks, although less common than in the past, remained a serious problem. Assailants threw acid in the faces of victims–usually women–leaving them disfigured and often blind. Acid attacks were often related to a woman’s refusal to accept a marriage proposal or in connection with land disputes. A prominent local NGO reported 36 acid attacks harming 42 victims from January through September. In January, a court in Sylhet sentenced Muhammed Laike Ahmed to 14 years in prison for throwing acid on a teenage girl in 2012 after she spurned his numerous proposals.

The law seeks to control the availability of acid and reduce acid-related violence directed toward women, but lack of awareness of the law and poor enforcement limited its effect. The Commerce Ministry restricted acid sales to buyers registered with relevant trade organizations; however, the government did not enforce the restrictions universally. To facilitate speedier prosecution of acid-throwing cases, the law provides special tribunals and generally does not allow bail. According to the Acid Survivors Foundation, the special tribunals were not effective, and conviction rates remained low.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment in public and private, including in educational institutions and workplaces, is prohibited by a 2009 High Court guideline. The Bangladesh National Woman Lawyers’ Association noted in June that harassment remained a problem and monitoring and enforcement of the guidelines were poor, which sometimes prevented girls from attending school or work. The formation of complaints committees and the installation of complaints boxes at educational institutions and workplaces required by the Court’s directive were rarely enforced, according to the CIC-BD Alternative Report. Between January and June, ASK documented 148 cases of sexual harassment against women with three victims committing suicide. According to NGOs and media reports, cyber sexual harassment is also a growing problem.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals had the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Civil society organizations, however, reported that victims of child marriage often lacked the means to access services. According to the 2014 Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey (BDHS), the total fertility rate for women aged 15 to 49 was 2.3 children per woman, and 62.4 percent of married women used any method of contraception (54.1 percent used any modern method); 12.1 percent of women had unmet family planning needs. Weaknesses in the public health system, such as lack of trained providers and equipment in hard-to-reach and hard-to-staff areas, resulted in inequitable access to information and services around the country. A full range of contraceptive methods, including long-acting reversible contraception and permanent methods, were available through government, NGO and for-profit clinics and hospitals. Pharmacies and social marketing kiosks carried a wide range of family planning options and sold 41 percent of the family planning supplies distributed in the country, according to the 2014 BDHS. Most low-income families relied on public family planning services offered free of cost. The survey indicated that low levels of income and education, some religious beliefs, and traditional family roles sometimes served as barriers to access.

According to a 2015 estimate by the World Bank, during the preceding twenty-five years, maternal mortality ratio declined from 569 to 176 deaths per 100,000 live births.

Discrimination: The constitution declares all citizens equal before the law with entitlement to equal protection of the law. It also explicitly recognizes the equal rights of women “in all spheres of the state and of public life.” Nevertheless, women do not enjoy the same legal status and rights as men in family, property, and inheritance law. Under traditional Islamic inheritance law, daughters inherit only half of what sons do. Under Hindu inheritance law, a widow’s rights to her deceased husband’s property are limited to her lifetime and revert to the male heirs upon her death.

Women faced sexual harassment at work, as well as difficulties in being promoted in factory jobs, obtaining access to credit, and other economic opportunities. The government’s National Women’s Development Policy included commitments to provide opportunities for women in employment and business.


Birth Registration: The law does not grant citizenship automatically by birth within the country. Individuals become citizens if their fathers or grandfathers were born in the territories that are now part of the country. If a person qualifies for citizenship through ancestry, the father or grandfather must have been a permanent resident of these territories in or after 1971. Birth registration is required to obtain a national identity card or passport

Education: Primary education was free and compulsory through fifth grade, and the government offered subsidies to parents to keep girls in class through 10th grade. While teacher fees and uniforms remained prohibitively costly for many families, the government distributed hundreds of millions of free textbooks to increase access to education. Enrollments in primary schools showed gender parity, but educational attainment was low for both boys and girls. The completion rates fell in secondary school with more girls than boys at the secondary level. The 2010 Education Policy extended compulsory primary education to the eighth grade; however, in the absence of legal amendments to reflect the policy, it remained unenforceable. Government incentives to families who sent children to school contributed significantly to increased primary school enrollments in recent years, but hidden school fees at the local level created barriers to access for the poorest families, particularly for girls. Many families kept children out of school to become wage earners or to help with household chores, and primary school coverage was insufficient in hard-to-reach and disaster-prone areas. Early and forced marriage was a factor in girls’ attrition from secondary school.

Child Abuse: Despite strong children’s rights legislation, there was a general lack of enforcement due to limited resources and capacity to implement and monitor these laws. Governance remained weak with responsibility for children held by one of the least-resourced ministries, the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs. Many forms of child abuse, including sexual abuse, physical and humiliating punishment, child abandonment, kidnapping, and trafficking, continued to be serious and widespread problems. Children were vulnerable to abuse in all settings: home, community, school, residential institutions, and the workplace. In October, the government, with support from UNICEF, launched “Child Helpline–1098,” a free telephone service designed to help children facing violence, abuse, and exploitation.

According to the ASK, 683 children were victims of violence from January to August, with 51 victims aged six or younger and 234 victims aged seven to 12 years old. One hundred seventy-three children were raped, 33 were sexually harassed by stalkers, 14 were tortured by law enforcement agencies, 277 were tortured by teachers, and 87 experienced other types of physical torture. This followed a year in which such cases increased 161 percent between 2014 and 2015. The Prime Minister expressed concern about the surge in child murders in her speech at the Parliament in February.

Girls were especially vulnerable to violence and abuse. Findings from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics’ Report on Violence Against Women Survey 2015 indicated that 34.2 percent of girls aged 10-14 years have been raped at least once. The rate is 39.7 percent for those aged 15-19 years. In August, Suraiya Akter Risha, a 14-year-old eighth grader at Willes Little Flower School in Dhaka, was attacked in broad daylight by a knife-wielding assailant as she was leaving the school premises. Her death three days later sparked protests by students, teachers, and parents.

Despite advances, including establishing a monitoring agency in the Ministry of Home Affairs, trafficking of children and inadequate care and protection for survivors of trafficking continued to be problems. Child labor and abuse at the workplace remained problems in certain industries, mostly in the informal sector, and child domestic workers were vulnerable to all forms of abuse at their informal workplaces (see section 7.c.).

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18 for women and 21 for men, according to the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, but the law is poorly enforced, and early and forced marriage remained a serious problem. According to 2016 UNICEF data, 52 percent of girls were married by age 18, and 18 percent were married by age 15. The median age of first marriage and first sexual intercourse, according to the 2014 BDHS, was 15.8 and 15.9 years old, respectively.

The Bangladesh Government drafted a new Child Marriage Restraint Act in 2015, which was the subject of intense national debate. The Act increases penalties for those arranging underage marriages but drafts included a clause that will allow marriage of children below the age of 18 under special circumstances. Despite assurances from the Government of Bangladesh not to reduce the legal age of marriage under any circumstance in the wake of intense advocacy on the part of human rights advocates and development donors protesting the clause, the cabinet approved the draft law, which was pending with parliament at year’s end. The Prime Minister publicly defended the draft act despite criticism from domestic sources and the international community. In an effort to reduce early and forced marriages, the government offered stipends for girls’ school expenses beyond the compulsory fifth-grade level. The government and NGOs conducted workshops and public events to teach parents the importance of their daughters waiting until age 18 before marrying. The average age of marriage for females was less than 18, and as such children were among the victims of dowry and other marital violence.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penalty for sexual exploitation of children is 10 years’ to life imprisonment. The 2013 Children’s Act defines a child as anyone under age 18. Child pornography and the selling or distributing of such material is prohibited. The Pornography Control Act sets the maximum penalty at 10 years in prison and a fine of 500,000 taka ($6,250). In 2009, the most recent year for such data, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and BBS completed a baseline survey on commercial sexual exploitation of children. According to the survey, of 18,902 child victims of sexual exploitation, 83 percent were girls, nine percent were transgender children, and eight percent were boys. The survey reported that 40 percent of the girls and 53 percent of the boys were under age 16, the age of consent when the survey was conducted. The age of consent is 18 for women and 21 for men.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at


There was no Jewish community in the country, but politicians and imams reportedly used anti-Semitic statements to gain support from their constituencies. In one high profile case, ruling party politicians leveraged anti-Semitic sentiment for political gain by accusing an opposition leader of colluding with Israeli intelligence services.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

Persons with Disabilities

The Rights and Protection of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2013 provides for equal treatment and freedom from discrimination for persons with disabilities; however, persons with disabilities faced social and economic discrimination. The law focuses on prevention of disability, treatment, education, rehabilitation, social protection, employment, transport accessibility, and advocacy.

The law requires persons with disabilities to register for identity cards to track their enrollment in educational institutions and access to jobs. It allows them to be included in voter lists, to cast votes, and to participate in elections. It states that no person, organization, authority, or corporation shall discriminate against persons with disabilities and allows for fines up to 500,000 taka ($6,250) or three years’ imprisonment for giving unequal treatment for school, work, or inheritance based on disability, although implementation of the law is uneven. Support programs tended to push people living with disabilities toward vocational training instead of formal education. The law also created a 27-member National Coordination Committee charged with coordinating relevant activities among all government organizations and private bodies to fulfill the objectives of the law.

According to the Ministry of Public Administration, 1 percent of civil service first- and second-class jobs–gazette officers with more power and responsibilities than other classes–are reserved for persons with disabilities. According to the Center for Disability in Development, 148 union parishads (local government councils) have disability inclusion initiatives.

According to the NGO Action against Disability, 90 percent of children with disabilities did not attend public school. The government trained teachers about inclusive education and recruited disability specialists at the district level. The government also allocated stipends for students with disabilities.

The law contains extensive accessibility requirements for new buildings. Nevertheless, authorities approved construction plans for new buildings that did not meet these requirements.

The law affords persons with disabilities the same access to information rights as nondisabled persons, but family and community dynamics often influenced whether these rights were exercised. The law contains provisions for information and communications technology to be accessible to persons with disabilities through video subtitling, sign language, screen readers, or text-to-speech systems in public and private media outlets. The state television channel used sign language, but general practice by the media did not meet the requirements of the law.

The law identifies persons with disabilities as a priority group for government-sponsored legal services. The Ministry of Social Welfare, Department of Social Services, and National Foundation for the Development of the Disabled are the government agencies responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Due to problems of accessibility and to discrimination, persons with disabilities were sometimes excluded from mainstream government health, education, and social protective services. The government reduced taxes on several hundred items, such as wheelchairs, hearing aids, Braille machines, orthotics, and prostheses, designed to assist persons with disabilities.

Government facilities for treating persons with mental disabilities were inadequate. The Ministry of Health established child development centers in all public medical colleges to assess neurological disabilities. Several private initiatives existed for medical and vocational rehabilitation as well as for employment of persons with disabilities. National and international NGOs provided services and advocated for persons with disabilities. The government established service centers for persons with disabilities in all 64 districts, where local authorities provided free rehabilitation services and assistive devices. The government also promoted autism research and awareness.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Violent attacks against religious minority communities continued, apparently motivated by transnational violent extremism as well as economic and political reasons. Attackers purporting to be affiliated with Da’esh and AQIS claimed to kill eight Hindus, two Christians, two Buddhists, as well as one Sufi and one Shi’a adherent. Four Hindus and two Buddhists were seriously injured in other attacks by religious extremists.

On October 30, 150-200 people vandalized 200 homes and at least five temples in the eastern Bangladesh subdistrict of Nasirnagar, reportedly injuring 150 people and setting fire to eight shops. The attack followed a Facebook post by a local resident showing a doctored photo with a Hindu deity pasted over the Kaaba in Mecca. A National Human Rights Commission fact-finding mission to the district reported on November 2 that the attacks were deliberate and aimed at driving out Hindus so as to grab their land. The Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council (BHBCUC) asserted that the local administration and the local Member of Parliament were responsible for failing to prevent the attacks. A police investigation found that a feud between ruling party members precipitated the attacks. Government officials, students, Hindu organizations, and others condemned the attacks, although there was disagreement on the cause. Police detained approximately 100 people, including the owner of the internet café where the photo was uploaded; many had tenuous links to the incident.

Religious minority advocacy groups, including the BHBCUC, criticized the government for not adequately protecting the country’s religious minorities. In June, Hindu leaders decried attacks that disproportionately targeted Hindus, imploring Indian authorities to intervene.

Some members of religious minorities reported private discrimination in employment and housing. Urdu-speaking minority communities reported systemic discrimination, including lack of access to employment and land. Discrimination against minorities in land tenure, combined with the lack of witness protection, at times made it difficult to stem land grabbing and to prosecute detained suspects.

Minority communities reported many land ownership disputes that disproportionately displaced minorities, especially in areas near new roads or industrial development zones where land prices had recently increased. They also claimed that local police, civil authorities, and political leaders were sometimes involved or shielded politically influential land grabbers from prosecution (see section 6.). In August, the government amended the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act, which may allow for land restitution for indigenous people living in the CHT (see section 2.d).

NGOs reported that national origin, racial, and ethnic minorities faced discrimination. For example, some Dalits (lowest-caste Hindus) had restricted access to land, adequate housing, education, and employment.

Indigenous People

The indigenous community experienced widespread discrimination and abuse, despite government quotas for participation of indigenous CHT residents in the civil service and higher education, as well as provisions for local governance as called for in the 1997 CHT Peace Accord. Indigenous persons from the CHT were unable to participate effectively in decisions affecting their lands due to disagreements regarding the structure and policies of the land commission. Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti, a political party formed to represent the people and indigenous tribes of the CHT, alleged that the ruling party, with support from local administration and security forces, used violence, intimidation, and vote-rigging to establish control over the CHT during the local council elections in June. Strict security measures prevented some indigenous individuals and activists from combating discrimination.

Indigenous persons also suffered from societal violence, including rape and murder. This violence was sometimes associated with land grabbing. According to a current year report from the Kapaeeng Foundation, an indigenous rights NGO, in 2015 134 indigenous people, including 101 from the CHT, were physically assaulted by Bengali nonstate actors, complicit with law enforcement agencies. Kapaeeng reported that 85 indigenous women and girls were sexually or physically assaulted in 2015, including 26 cases of rape, and 13 indigenous people were killed. In 2015, 84 houses belonging to indigenous people were vandalized and 35 were burned to the ground.

The government recognized indigenous people living in the CHT as having special status, and the constitution allows for affirmative action in favor of indigenous people, but indigenous groups reported that effective affirmative action did not occur. Some NGOs reported discrimination against indigenous people in government hiring and promotions. According to the CHT Commission, fewer than half of indigenous children ages six through 10 were enrolled in school in part due to a lack of indigenous-language instruction. Indigenous people at times lacked access to adequate housing and health care.

Indigenous groups and NGOs reported monitoring by civilian and military intelligence agencies, especially in the CHT, which had a pronounced military presence.

The central government retained authority over land use. The land commission, designed to investigate and return all illegally acquired land, did not resolve any disputes as of October. Bengalis and indigenous persons questioned the structure and impartiality of the commission. An August amendment to the CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act was designed to address this issue, but it has been challenged by Bengali settlers to the area who feel it does not represent their interests (see section 2.d). Some indigenous people reporting losing land as a result of implementation of the recent Land Border Agreement with India.

Indigenous communities in areas other than the CHT reported the loss of land to Bengali Muslims, and indigenous peoples’ advocacy groups reported continued land encroachment by Rohingya settlers from Burma. The government continued construction projects on land traditionally owned by indigenous communities in the Moulvibazar and Modhupur forest areas.

On November 6, members of the Santal community, a mostly Christian indigenous group which numbers approximately 500,000 in Bangladesh, clashed over land ownership with the workers of a sugar mill and police in the northern district of Gaibandha. According to media reports, three people were killed and 25 were injured in the clash during which Santal protesters fired bows and arrows at police who returned fire with teargas and rubber bullets. Police and ruling party activists evicted approximately 2,500 Santal families and looted and set fire to their houses during the incident. The conflict emerged when a hundred Santal protesters tried to reoccupy land the government had acquired in a 1952 agreement with their ancestors to grow sugarcane. Santal protesters claimed local authorities breached the agreement by leasing out part of the land for cultivation of crops other than sugarcane. On November 7, police filed criminal charges against 42 named and some 400 unnamed people for alleged involvement in the attack on the police. In December, video footage posted online of police seeing fire to Santal houses during the November 6 event sparked public outrage. Police stated that they were reviewing the evidence at the year’s end.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal under Section 377 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, but the law was not enforced. LGBTI groups reported police used the law as a pretext to bully LGBTI individuals, including those considered effeminate regardless of their sexual orientation, as well as to limit registration of LGBTI organizations. Some groups also reported harassment under a suspicious behavior provision of the police code. The Hijra population has long been a marginalized, but recognized, part of society, but faced elevated levels of fear, harassment, and law enforcement contact in the wake of violent extremist attacks against vulnerable communities. The government acknowledged the existence of the LGB population in its April 2013 Universal Periodic Review, contrary to its stance in the 2009 review, during which the foreign minister stated there were no LGB individuals in the country.

Members of LGBTI communities regularly received threatening messages via telephone, text, and social media, and some were harassed by the police. During the Bengali New Year (Pohela Boishakh) celebration, police prevented members of the LGBTI community from participating in a parade, ostensibly to protect them from rumored attacks, by detaining and reportedly humiliating them–including by divulging their LGBTI status to their family members. Following the parade, members of the community reported both online and in person harassment. On April 25, assailants allegedly linked to AQIS killed human rights activist Xulhaz Mannan and his friend Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy in Mannan’s home using machetes. The two killings generated a chilling effect within the LGBTI activist community, according to contacts. Following the event and continued harassment, many members of LGBTI communities, including the leadership of key support organizations, reduced their activities and sought refuge both inside and outside of the country. This resulted in severely weakened advocacy and support networks for LGBTI persons. Organizations specifically assisting lesbians continued to be rare. Strong social stigma based on sexual orientation was common and prevented open discussion of the subject.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Social stigma against HIV and AIDS and against higher-risk populations could be a barrier for accessing health services, especially for the transgender community and men who have sex with men. Gender norms sometimes prevented women from accessing HIV information and services. According to the People Living with HIV Stigma Index, HIV-positive persons at times faced social ostracism, detention, and denial of inheritance rights. The overall HIV infection rate was less than 0.1 percent. Funding for HIV projects declined leading to closure of some service centers.

There were limited reports of violence against HIV/AIDS patients. NGOs said this was partly a function of fear if victims identified themselves and an absence of research due to the relatively low rate of HIV/AIDS in the country.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Vigilante killings occurred. Local human rights organizations acknowledged the number of reported cases probably represented only a fraction of the actual incidents. Illegal fatwas and village arbitration, which a prominent local NGO defined as rulings given by community leaders rather than religious scholars, also occurred. In April, villagers in Khulna district assaulted two Hindu teachers for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammed and locked them in a school. The teachers were sentenced to six months in prison for “hurting religious sentiments.”


Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons


Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape in general but does not include separate provisions on marital rape. Rape was a problem, but most victims did not report it due to shame or fear that police would blame the victim. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, there were 145 registered cases of rape or attempted rape in 2015.

Domestic violence was a significant problem, and the government took measures to prevent it during the year, although it yet again postponed adoption of a comprehensive law on domestic violence.

The government directed efforts to combat gender-based violence mainly by preventing such crimes and not by protecting or assisting victims, although crisis rooms provided limited psychological and medical assistance to victims.

As of January the state operated 109 shelter-type crisis rooms for victims, including domestic violence victims; NGOs operated at least three more shelters for victims of domestic violence. Authorities reported that in 2015 crisis rooms assisted 237 individuals, including 178 domestic violence victims; however, observers noted a lack of adequate staff training, short-term sheltering, limited working hours, and unsafe locations.

A 2014 law on preventing crimes establishes a separate definition of domestic violence and provides for implementation of protective orders. Such orders, ranging from three to 30 days’ duration, are issued to abusers who have been charged with two counts of violence within one year. The law requires authorities to provide victims and abusers with temporary accommodation until the protection orders expire. In addition to the newly adopted law, the code on administrative offenses, amended in 2013, prescribes a large fine or detention for up to 15 days for battery, intended infliction of pain, and psychological or physical suffering committed against a close family member. The criminal code does not contain a separate article dealing specifically with domestic violence.

Police reported that, from January to October 2015, they identified 1,984 victims of domestic violence; of those 1,509 were female, 475 were male, and 120 were older than age 70. Ninety-six victims of domestic violence died, and 169 suffered severe bodily injuries in 2015. In the majority of these cases, women said they had been previously threatened with violence. Additionally, police investigated more than 42,000 allegations of domestic violence from January to October 2015. The police official reported that women were the aggressors in at least 10 percent of all domestic violence cases and were responsible for approximately 35 percent of all murders and incidents of severe bodily harm connected to domestic violence.

According to a 2014 UN Population Fund study, three out of four women and men between the ages of 18 and 60 claimed they had been subject to some form of domestic violence. Of this number, 76 percent of women and 76 percent of men had been subject to psychological violence, and 37 percent of women and 28 percent of men had been subject to economic pressures. More than 31 percent of women and 24 percent of men suffered from physical violence, and 18 percent of women and 12 percent of men reported their partners sexually abused them. Women remained reluctant to report domestic violence due to fear of escalating the violence, reprisal, social stigma, and a lack of confidence they would receive appropriate and timely assistance. Moreover, they feared that if the aggressor were fined, the financial burden would fall on the family. Male victims of domestic violence did not report their cases due to their own feelings of guilt, feeling pity for their abuser, and fear of family disruptions. According to the study, 12 percent of male and 29 percent of female victims of domestic violence sought professional assistance.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment reportedly was widespread, but no specific laws, other than those against physical assault, address the problem.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Access to information on contraception and skilled attendance at delivery and in postpartum care were widely available. The UN Population Division estimated 55 percent of girls and women ages 15-49 used a modern method of contraception in 2015.

Discrimination: The law provides for equal treatment of women with regard to property ownership and inheritance, family law, equal pay for equal work (although in practice women were often paid less), and in the judicial system, and the law was generally respected.

Women’s groups voiced concerns about the increasing percentage of women in poverty, particularly among women with more than two children, female-headed households, women taking care of family members with disabilities or older family members, rural women, and older women.


Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived either by birth within the country’s territory or from one’s parents. A child of a citizen is a citizen regardless of place of birth, even if one of the parents is not a citizen. In general, births were registered immediately.

Child Abuse: The government continued to implement a 2012-16 comprehensive national plan to improve childcare and the protection of children’s rights, including for victims of child abuse, domestic violence, and commercial sexual exploitation, and acknowledged a lack of funding and inefficiency in executing certain protective measures. With assistance from NGOs that promote children’s rights, authorities extensively employed procedures for on-the-record, one-time interviewing of child abuse victims in the framework of investigations or criminal cases at specialized facilities under the direct supervision of psychologists. Courts used recorded testimony to avoid repeatedly summoning child abuse victims for hearings. Cases that affected the rights and legitimate interests of minors were generally heard by more experienced judges with expertise in developmental psychology, psychiatry, and education. The government failed to resume operations of a national hotline for assisting children despite various NGOs’ requests to support the hotline.

As of January the Ministry of Education ran 138 social-educational centers nationwide for minor victims of any type of violence or minors finding themselves in vulnerable and dangerous conditions. Centers could provide short-term shelter, food, clothing, personal hygiene products, and medical and psychological aid to victims. No data on the number of assisted child abuse victims at these centers was available. General healthcare institutions provided a wide range of medical aid to child abuse victims free of charge.

Authorities intervened to prevent child abuse stemming from domestic violence and identified families in vulnerable conditions, providing foster care to children who could not be kept with their immediate families while preventive work was underway. Although the government increased prosecution of child abusers, its efforts to address the causes of child abuse were inadequate.

Rape or sexual assault of a person known to be a minor is punishable by up to 15 years in jail. Sexual acts between a person older than 18 and a person known to be younger than 16 carry penalties of up to five years in jail.

From January to October 2015, authorities registered 193 pedophilia crimes, including 18 cases of rape, 74 cases of coercive actions of a sexual nature, 87 cases of sexual intercourse with a minor, and 14 cases of sexual abuse. Police identified 135 victims of pedophilia, including 58 children under 14, mostly female, in 2015.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for both boys and girls is 18 years old, although girls as young as 14 can be married legally with parental consent. There were reports of early marriage in which girls as young as 14 and boys as young as 16 married with parental consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. Prostitution of children was a problem. From January to October 2015, the Internal Affairs Ministry investigated 506 crimes involving the commercial sexual exploitation of children, including 25 cases of the production and distribution of child pornography and six cases in which minors became victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation. The law provides penalties of up to 13 years in prison for production or distribution of pornographic materials depicting a minor. The law generally was enforced.

Institutionalized Children: There was no system for monitoring child abuse in orphanages or other specialized institutions. Authorities did not publicly report on any child abuse incidents in institutions. There were allegations of abuse in foster families. The government opened or continued investigations into some of these cases.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International parental Child Abduction at


Jewish groups estimated that between 30,000 and 40,000 persons identified themselves as Jews. Most were not active religiously.

Anti-Semitic incidents continued but were on the decline; authorities sporadically investigated reports of such acts. Jewish community and civil society activists expressed concern over the concept of a “greater Slavic union” that was popular among nationalist organizations, including the neo-Nazi group Russian National Unity, which remained active despite its official dissolution in 2000. Neo-Nazis were widely believed to be behind anti-Semitic incidents across the country. Anti-Semitic and Russian ultranationalist newspapers, literature, DVDs, and videotapes imported from Russia were widely available. The government did not promote antibias and tolerance education.

On May 25, authorities in Valozhyn opened a criminal case to investigate vandalism of a memorial in honor of 800 local Jews killed in 1942 near the town of Ivianets. Part of the plaque was broken and a swastika was painted on the fence of the memorial. There were no reported developments in the case.

On July 9, local Jewish community members reported that they saw yellow paint on sculptures at the Holocaust memorial called “Yama” (the Pit) dedicated to the Minsk ghetto victims. Authorities opened an investigation after appeals from the National Union of Jewish Communities and Organizations, but no developments were reported.

On September 21, the government signed a cultural heritage agreement that encourages efforts to “ preserve and protect certain cultural properties of all ethnic groups, including the victims of the Nazi genocide.”

In November the country hosted the Conference of European Rabbis. The conference participants discussed cooperation on erecting monuments and other issues with senior officials, including the speaker of the upper chamber of the parliament and the plenipotentiary representative for religious and nationalities affairs.

Local journalists and Jewish activists reported on November 19 that unidentified vandals sprayed black paint on a monument commemorating thousands of Jews who were killed by Nazis in the local ghetto during the Holocaust in Mahilyou. Police reportedly opened a criminal case and on November 22 detained four individuals, who reportedly expressed ultra-right Nazi ideas and belonged to a local skinhead group. Leaders of the local Jewish community cleaned the monument on November 20. The monument had also been defaced in 2012. The police did not convict anyone in 2012, claiming that someone spilled paint by accident.

On November 30, local police in the city of Pinsk opened an investigation into vandalism of a memorial honoring Jewish and Roma victims of the Holocaust as well as commemorating killings of prisoners, partisans and underground fighters by the Nazis in 1941-44. Unidentified vandals painted a swastika on the plaque of the memorial, which was installed on the site of the former Jewish ghetto in central Pinsk.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, and other government services; discrimination was common.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Security is the main government agency responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The law mandates that transport, residences, and businesses be accessible to persons with disabilities, but few public areas were wheelchair accessible or accessible for hearing and vision-impaired persons. The National Association of Disabled Wheelchair Users estimated that more than 90 percent of persons with physical disabilities were unable to leave their places of residence without assistance and stated their residences were not built to accommodate persons with physical disabilities. While authorities claimed that 30 percent of the country’s total infrastructure was accessible, disability rights organizations considered this figure inflated.

The country’s lack of independent living opportunities left many persons with disabilities no choice but to live in state-run institutions. Approximately 80 such institutions across the country housed more than 10,000 persons. Disability rights organizations reported that the quality of care in these facilities was low, and instances of fundamental human rights violations, harassment, mistreatment, and other abuse were reported. Authorities frequently placed persons with physical and mental disabilities in the same facilities and did not provide either group with specialized care.

Public transportation was free to persons with disabilities, but the majority of subway stations in Minsk and the bus system were not wheelchair accessible. According to government statistics, 5 percent of the country’s public transportation network was accessible.

Disability rights organizations reported difficulty organizing advocacy activities due to impediments to freedom of assembly, censorship, and the government’s unwillingness to register assistance projects (see section 2.b.).

Advocates also noted that persons with disabilities, especially those with vision and hearing disabilities, lacked the ability to address violations of their rights easily and completely since courts often failed to provide access and sign language interpretation. Separately, women with disabilities often faced discrimination with respect to their reproductive rights, and there were reports of authorities attempting to take children away from families in which parents had disabilities, claiming that the parents would not be able to provide appropriate care of their children. In addition, women with disabilities, as well as women, whose children were diagnosed with potential disabilities in utero reported that some doctors insisted they terminate their pregnancies.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Governmental and societal discrimination against Roma persisted. There were also expressions of societal hostility toward proponents of the local national culture, which the government often identified with actors of the democratic opposition, repeatedly labeled by President Lukashenka as “the fifth column.”

Authorities continued to harass the independent and unregistered Union of Poles of Belarus.

Official and societal discrimination continued against the country’s 7,000 (according to the 2009 census) to 60,000 Roma (according to Romani community estimates). The Romani community continued to experience marginalization, various types of discrimination, high unemployment, low levels of education, and lack of access to social services. Generally, Roma hold Belarusian citizenship, but many lacked official government identity documents and refused to obtain them.

An independent survey, conducted by Romani communities and experts of the state-run Center for National Cultures in 2014, estimated that no more than 2 percent of the Roma had university education and that only 17 percent enrolled in vocational training after junior high school. Twelve percent of Roma older than age10 remained illiterate. Only 9 percent of Roma were officially employed. There continued to be isolated reports that non-Romani children and teachers harassed Romani children, which forced Romani families to withdraw their children from schools. The majority of Romani youth did not finish secondary school and failed to enroll in university programs, although the situation continued to improve as more Romani children from mixed families enrolled and obtained bachelor degrees, including in areas outside of Minsk. There were no special school programs for Roma, although there were such programs for Jews, ethnic Lithuanians, and Poles.

In April 2015 the website of the regional newspaper Avangard in Buda-Kashaliova published an article that associated Roma with criminal activities and contained a police warning to residents to report “suspicious activity.” Local activists Maryia Klimovich and Ales Yauseyenka raised concerns about the article through media outlets. In February Klimovich and Yauseyenka appealed to the Ministry of the Interior to stop publication of police accusations that Romani representatives were behind criminal activity. In its March response to the activists, the ministry’s press office dismissed the claims and stated, “the public mention of ethnicity of any criminals did not incite any hatred.” The ministry added, “the negative reaction to such publications could be taken as lobbying interests of the Roma to avoid liability for their criminal activity.”

According to leaders of the Romani communities, security and law enforcement agencies arbitrarily detained, investigated, and harassed Roma, including by forced fingerprinting, maltreatment in detention, and ethnic insults. In March 2015 the Belarusian Helsinki Committee sent an inquiry to the Interior Ministry and the General Prosecutor’s Office, raising their concerns about human rights violations against the Roma and seeking a stop to police discrimination. The agencies reportedly studied cases of maltreatment, and Romani leaders stated the situation continued to improve during the year as authorities took measures to prevent discrimination and worked closely with Romani “mediators” to integrate marginalized community members.

While the Russian and Belarusian languages have equal legal status, Russian was the primary language of government. According to independent polling, the overwhelming majority of the population spoke Russian as their mother tongue. Because the government viewed many proponents of the Belarusian language as political opponents, authorities continued to harass and intimidate academic and cultural groups that sought to promote Belarusian and routinely rejected proposals to widen use of the language, although the situation improved before year’s end.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults is not illegal, but discrimination against LGBTI persons was widespread, and harassment occurred.

Due to egregious official harassment of the LGBTI community, groups opted for holding private activities and events. LGBTI groups did not seek permission from authorities to hold any public events. Mikhail Pishcheuski, a gay man who was harassed and severely beaten as he left a club in Minsk in 2014, died from his injuries in October 2015. The main perpetrator of the assault, Dzmitry Lukashevich, was convicted of hooliganism and inflicting severe bodily harm in 2014 and was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison. Although Lukashevich was released as part of the government’s amnesty program in September 2015, ultimately serving only 11 months in prison, prosecutors reopened a criminal case against him after Pishcheuski’s death on the charges of negligent homicide and hooliganism. A Minsk district court sentenced him to three years in prison on July 28. Pishcheuski’s mother, sister, and brother, also sued Lukashevich for damages totaling 210,000 rubles ($100,000), but the judge reduced the damages to 21,000 rubles ($10,000) total, noting that Lukashevich would not be capable of paying such a large sum.

On June 10, a regional court in Homyel convicted 11 young men of beating and abusing a gay man in May 2015. Ten of them were charged with hooliganism and received suspended sentences, and one of the abusers, who had a previous criminal record, was jailed for four years and two months. The 11 men,, calling themselves “anti-pedophile” activists, lured the 27-year-old victim into an apartment, beat him, undressed him, painted a swastika and explicit language on his body, and forced him to walk outside naked.

In a conviction on February 10, a Minsk district court sentenced a man to two years of restricted freedom (similar to partial house arrest) and ordered him to compensate his victim 500 rubles ($230) in damages for assaulting an LGBTI person because of his sexual orientation. The court based its conviction on an article of criminal code that covers crimes based on hatred “toward a certain social group.” This was the first time this provision of the criminal code had been used to prosecute crimes against LGBTI victims. According to the LGBTI human rights NGO Identity, the defendant contacted the victim on an LGBTI-focused social network website and later met the victim in November 2015. The defendant questioned the victim to confirm the latter was gay and then hit him several times, stole his cell phone and some cash, and threatened to post a video of the beating unless the victim changed his sexual orientation. The defendant admitted to authorities that he had been “hunting” for LGBTI individuals online, with the goal of forcing them to change their sexual identities. Independent human rights groups welcomed the verdict.

Societal discrimination against LGBTI activists persisted with the tacit support of the regime. The police continued to mistreat LGBTI persons and refused to investigate crimes against LGBTI persons. A number of individuals filed complaints, but police refused to open investigations during the year.

The government does not provide transgender persons with new national identification numbers, which include a digit that signifies gender. Transgender persons reportedly have been refused jobs when potential employers note the “discrepancy” between the identification number and the stated gender of the applicant. Banks also refused to open accounts for transgender persons on the same grounds.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS remained a problem, and the illness carried a heavy social stigma. The Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS reported there were numerous reports of HIV-infected individuals who faced discrimination, especially at workplaces and during job interviews.

There were also frequent reports of family discrimination against HIV/AIDS-positive relatives, including preventing HIV/AIDS-positive parents from seeing their children or requiring HIV/AIDS-positive family members to use separate dishware. Authorities also reported that a few HIV-positive orphans remained institutionalized due to families’ reluctance to adopt or foster children with HIV/AIDS.

The government continued to broadcast and post public service advertisements raising awareness about HIV/AIDS and calling for greater tolerance toward persons infected with the virus.


Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons


Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal, and the government prosecuted such cases. A convicted rapist may receive 10 to 30 years in prison, depending on factors such as the age of the victim, the difference in age between the offender and the victim, their relationship, and the use or absence of violence during the crime.

The law prohibits domestic violence and provides for fines and incarceration. Legal sanctions for domestic violence are based on the sanctions for physical violence against a third person; the latter range from eight days to 20 years in prison, depending on the means and consequences of the violence. In case of domestic violence, these sanctions are doubled. The law lists several aggravating circumstances, such as violence against the partner and the weakness of the partner (due to age, pregnancy, illness, or handicap.) A number of government-supported shelters and telephone helplines were available across the country for victims of domestic abuse. In addition to providing lodging, many shelters assisted in legal matters, job placement, and psychological counseling to both partners.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C for women and girls. Reported cases were primarily filed by recent immigrants or asylum seekers. Since 2014 two hospitals, in Ghent and Brussels, were reference hospitals for FGM/C victims. There were no new cases reported in 2015, but a recent study estimated that, as of the end of 2012, there were 48,092 women or girls in Belgium who had arrived from a country where FGM/C was practiced. The study estimated that 13,112 individuals were likely excised, while 4,084 were deemed “at risk” of the practice.

The number of requests for asylum in the country based on FGM/C risk declined slightly, from 701 in 2014 to 609 in 2015. Parents often filed requests on behalf of their children. When asylum was granted, authorities followed up to ensure that FGM/C did not take place by having a parent sign a declaration and by requesting a medical certificate each year. Criminal sanctions apply to persons convicted of FGM/C.

Sexual Harassment: The law aims to prevent violence and harassment at work, obliging companies to set up internal procedures to handle employee complaints. Sexist remarks and attitudes targeting a specific individual are illegal; fines for violations range from 50 to 1,000 euros ($55 to $1,100). Reliable statistics on sexual harassment were not easily available, since formal complaints may be filed with various entities. The government generally enforced antiharassment laws. Although there was not a national campaign to fight sexual harassment, politicians and organizations such as the Federal Institute for the Equality of Men and Women worked to raise awareness of the problem.

Reproductive Rights: The constitution includes the right of couples and individuals to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. According to the UN Population Division, 67 percent of women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 were estimated to have used a modern method of contraception in 2015.

Discrimination: Women have the same legal rights as men, including rights under family, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. The law requires equal pay for equal work and prohibits discrimination on the grounds of gender, pregnancy, or motherhood as well as sexual intimidation in labor relations and in access to goods, services, social welfare, and health care.


Birth Registration: The government registered all live births immediately. Citizenship is conferred on a child through a parent’s (or the parents’) Belgian citizenship.

Child Abuse: In 2015 the federal police registered 1,477 complaints of child abandonment, 310 of neglect, 132 of food deprivation, and 3,997 involving physical, sexual, psychological, or other child abuse within the family. The government continued to prosecute cases of child abuse and to punish those convicted. The NGO Child Focus reported handling 1,840 missing child and child abuse cases in 2015.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law provides that both (consenting) partners must be at least 18 years old to marry.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): See information for girls under 18 years of age in the women’s section above.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual exploitation, abduction, and trafficking and includes severe penalties for child pornography and possession of pedophilic materials. Authorities enforced the law. The penalties for producing and disseminating child pornography range from five to 15 years’ imprisonment and from one month to one year in prison for possessing such material. The law permits the prosecution of residents who commit such crimes while abroad. The law also provides that criminals convicted of child sexual abuse must receive specialized treatment before they can be paroled and must continue counseling and treatment after their release from prison.

According to official figures, the federal police investigated 769 child pornography cases in 2015. Belgian girls and foreign children were subjected to sex trafficking within the country.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. Statutory rape carries penalties of imprisonment for 15 to 20 years. If the victim is under 10 years of age, imprisonment increases to 20 to 30 years.

Displaced Children: According to the Belgian Office of Foreigners, 901 unaccompanied minors filed asylum claims as minors between January and June. Authorities provided them adequate housing and services.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at


The country’s Jewish community was estimated at 40,000 persons. There were 570 reports of anti-Semitic acts in 2015. Anti-Semitic acts included some physical attacks but consisted mainly of verbal harassment of Jews and vandalism of Jewish property. Online hate speech continued to be a problem. Jewish groups reported anti-Semitic statements and attitudes in the media and in schools, especially but not exclusively related to the government of Israel and the Holocaust. In one example, the mother of a 12-year-old boy filed a police complaint in June alleging anti-Semitic bullying at a school in the Brussels suburbs, including subjecting him to taunts referencing the Holocaust.

The law prohibits public statements that incite national, racial, or religious hatred, including denial of the Holocaust. The government prosecuted and convicted individuals under this law (see section 2.a.). The government also provided enhanced security at Jewish schools and places of worship.

The Liege court was examining a Holocaust denial case in a francophone school. According to several students, a teacher reportedly mocked Hitler and denied the existence of concentration camps, claiming that the war was not Hitler’s but the Jews’ fault. He reportedly also said that the number of Jews who died during the war was not as high as the number of persons killed by Americans in Vietnam. A Verviers court sentenced the teacher in December 2015 to one month in prison (suspended sentence) and a 900 euro ($990) fine. The teacher appealed the ruling.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, and the provision of other state services. The government generally enforced the provisions. The Interfederal Center for Equal Opportunities (Unia) received 750 complaints in 2015 (which resulted in 384 effective cases), most related to employment and concerned access to private and public buildings and services, including public transport and access to banks, bars, restaurants, and amusement parks.

While the government mandated that public buildings erected after 1970 must be accessible to such persons, many older buildings were still inaccessible. Although the law requires that inmates with disabilities receive adequate treatment in separate, appropriate facilities, there were approximately 1,000 inmates with disabilities in prisons in spite of the law. The city of Brussels continued construction of accessibility measures on public transportation.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic minorities continued to experience discrimination in access to housing, education, and employment.

Government efforts to address such problems included internal training of officials and police officers and enforcement of laws prohibiting such discrimination. Laws and traditions permitting companies and individuals to discriminate on the basis of outward displays of religious belief disproportionately affected women of Moroccan and Turkish ethnic origin.

In 2015 approximately 15 percent of the allegations of discrimination received by Unia were based on physical disabilities. Discriminatory acts primarily took place over the internet, at work, or when individuals attempted to gain access to various public and private services, such as banking and restaurants.

Observers noted that racial discrimination often took the form of religious discrimination or occurred under the guise of practices that ostensibly limited the influence of religion in public life, but that effectively restricted the access of Muslims to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. Discrimination against women who wore a headscarf was common in the labor market. Companies commonly cited policies of “neutrality” with regard to religious belief in justifying such discrimination, although this defense was challenged in courts. The law also prohibits the wearing of a full-face veil (niqab) in public places; the provision affected very few women, compared to employment discrimination experienced by women wearing a headscarf. Authorities may punish persons who discriminate on the basis of ethnic origin with a fine of up to 137.50 euros ($151) and a jail sentence of up to seven days.

There were reports of discrimination against persons of African and Middle Eastern ancestry. For example, a 2015 socioeconomic monitoring report from Unia and the Ministry of Employment noted substantial differences in the employment rates for European Belgians (74.2 percent), Belgo-Moroccans (42.9 percent), and Belgo-Turks (43.3 percent).

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The country has a well-developed legal structure for the protection of LGBTI rights, which are included in the country’s antidiscrimination laws. Despite some progress, the underreporting of crimes against the LGBTI community remained a problem.

LGBTI persons from immigrant communities reported social discrimination within those communities. The government supported NGOs working to overcome the problem.

The law provides adequate protections for transgender persons but not for the larger transgender community. It requires a lengthy procedure, including psychiatric diagnosis and physical adaptation of the new gender (including surgery and hormones), before allowing persons to change their gender legally.

During the year the government, in cooperation with the regional entities, implemented an antihomophobia action plan. The plan imposes requirements on government entities involved in family matters, housing, and asylum and migration and calls for awareness campaigns to combat homophobic stereotypes in schools, youth movements, places of work, and the sports community.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

In the aftermath of the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris and the March bombing attacks in Brussels, there was an upsurge in anti-Islamic incidents across the country, including demonstrations and attempted demonstrations against Islam in Brussels, Ghent, and Antwerp that were attended by hundreds of protesters. There were reports of individual cases of violence directed against Muslims.

In July a petition was circulated in the Brussels municipality of Anderlecht calling on residents to urge Muslims to “go back home” and urging Catholics to set a mosque to a fire. An investigation into the petition was ongoing.

Restrictions on Islamic clothing in public and private sector employment, schools, and public spaces affected Muslim women in particular. In August a school in the Uccle municipality of Brussels forbade two veiled students from taking an examination but relented and allowed them to do so later the same day. The school had earlier changed its regulations to prohibit headscarves as of September 1. The Francophone minister for adult education expressed disappointment over the case and called on the school to provide a solid justification for the ban (schools are free to adopt such a ban, but the ban is required to be justified).

Unia received complaints of discrimination based on physical characteristics, political orientation, social origin, or status. Each of these categories accounted for approximately 3 percent of the total number of complaints filed. In 2015 the center received no notifications involving possible discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS but opened three HIV/AIDS-related cases.


Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons


Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, but enforcement was weak due to police ineffectiveness, official corruption, and victims’ unwillingness to report cases due to fear of social stigma and retaliation. Prison sentences for rape convictions range from one to five years. Although the penal code does not distinguish between rapes in general and spousal rape, the 2013 Law on the Prevention and Repression of Violence against Women explicitly prohibits spousal rape and provides the maximum penalty for conviction of raping a domestic partner. A 2011 law reinforces existing legislation against gender-based violence (GBV). In 2014 the Ministry of Labor, Civil Service, and Social Affairs’ Social Promotion Centers, through the Counseling and Legal Assistance Service to GBV victims, received 12,896 cases; 83 percent of victims were girls and women and 17 percent boys. Because of the lack of police training in collecting evidence associated with sexual assaults, ignorance of the law, and inherent difficulties victims faced in preserving and presenting evidence in court, judges reduced most sexual offense charges to misdemeanors.

Penalties for conviction of domestic violence range from six to 36 months’ imprisonment. Domestic violence against women was common, however. Women remained reluctant to report cases, and judges and police were reluctant to intervene in domestic disputes. The local chapter of the regional NGO Women in Law and Development-Benin (WILDAF-Benin), the Female Jurists Association of Benin, the Female Lawyers Association, and the Action Group for Justice and Social Equality offered social, legal, medical, and psychological assistance to victims of domestic violence. On April 7 and April 8, WILDAF–Benin held a session for midwives, nurses, and social workers from the northern departments on the 2013 Law on the Prevention and Repression of Violence against Women. With the assistance of an international donor, WILDAF-Benin operated one-stop care centers in Abomey and Cotonou to improve GBV victim-support services by providing legal, medical, psychosocial, and economic support to GBV victims. As of June 2015 this activity provided 470 persons with GBV services, trained 97 service providers (social workers, nurses, and midwives), and strengthened a service delivery system for GBV victims. On July 4, WILDAF-Benin launched a GBV website.

The Office of Women’s Promotion under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Labor, Civil Service, and Social Affairs is responsible for protecting and advancing women’s rights and welfare.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C and provides penalties for conviction of performing the procedure, including prison sentences of up to 10 years and fines of up to six million CFA francs ($10,215). Nevertheless, FGM/C occurred, and enforcement was rare due to the code of silence associated with this crime. Individuals who were aware of an incident of FGM/C but did not report it potentially faced fines ranging from 50,000 to 100,000 CFA francs ($85 to $170). FGM/C was practiced on girls and women from infancy up to age 30, although the majority of cases occurred before age 13, with half occurring before age five. The type of FGM/C most commonly perpetrated was Type II, the total removal of the clitoris with or without the total excision of the labia minora. This practice was largely limited to remote rural areas in the north. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 7 percent of girls and women ages 15 to 49 underwent FGM/C, and the prevalence among girls younger than 14 was 0.3 percent. The figure was higher in some regions, especially the northern departments, including Alibori and Donga (48 percent) and Borgou (59 percent), and among certain ethnic groups. More than 70 percent of Bariba and Peul (Fulani) and 53 percent of Yoa-Lokpa women and girls underwent FGM/C. Younger women were less likely to be excised than their older counterparts. Those who performed the procedure, usually older women, profited financially from it.

NGOs educated rural communities on the dangers of FGM/C and retrained FGM/C practitioners in other activities. The government, in conjunction with NGOs and international partners, made progress in raising public awareness of the dangers of the practice.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Forced marriage and widowhood rites, such as forcing the widow to lie beside the dead body of the deceased and to marry the deceased husband’s brother (levirate), occurred in certain regions.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and offers protection for victims, but sexual harassment was common, especially of female students by their male teachers. Persons convicted of sexual harassment face sentences of one to two years in prison and fines ranging from 100,000 to one million CFA francs ($170 to $1,702). The law also provides penalties for persons who are aware of sexual harassment and do not report it. Victims seldom reported harassment due to fear of social stigma and retaliation, however, and prosecutors and police lacked the legal knowledge and skills to pursue such cases. Although laws prohibiting sexual harassment were not widely enforced, judges used other provisions in the penal code to deal with sexual abuses involving minors.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence, but they often lacked the information and means to do so.

According to the World Health Organization, the UN Population Fund, UNICEF, and the World Bank, the maternal mortality rate was 405 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015. Factors contributing to the high rate were deliveries without adequate medical assistance, lack of access to emergency obstetric care, and unhygienic conditions during birth. According to 2015 UN Population Fund data, only 17 percent of girls and women ages 15 to 49 used a modern method of contraception. It reported that as of 2010, 23 percent of women ages 20 to 24 had given birth before age 18. Factors influencing low contraception and early pregnancy rates included illiteracy and poor access to reproductive health information in rural areas.

Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for equality for women in political, economic, and social spheres, women experienced extensive discrimination because of societal attitudes and resistance to behavioral change. Women experienced discrimination in obtaining employment, credit, equal pay, and in owning or managing businesses (see section 7.d.).

The code of persons and the family bans all discrimination against women regarding marriage and provides for the right to equal inheritance. The nationality law, however, discriminates against women.

In rural areas women traditionally occupied a subordinate role and were responsible for much of the hard labor on subsistence farms. The government and NGOs educated the public on women’s inheritance and property rights and their increased rights in marriage, including prohibitions on forced marriage, child marriage, and polygyny.

The government granted microcredit to help poor persons, especially women in rural areas, develop income-generating activities. The government extended credit and loans to female entrepreneurs.


Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country and from the father. By law the child of a Beninese father is automatically considered a citizen, but the child of a Beninese woman is considered Beninese only if the child’s father is unknown, has no known nationality, or is also Beninese. Particularly in rural areas, parents often did not declare the birth of their children, either from lack of understanding of the procedures involved or because they could not afford the fees for birth certificates. This could result in denial of public services such as education and health care.

Several donors operated programs to increase the number of registered children. For example, UNICEF supported the government’s campaign to register all births and to provide birth certificates to those who did not obtain one at birth. On January 28, the Ministry of Interior organized a workshop in the city of Porto-Novo to share best practices on increasing birth registration. The workshop covered methods for increasing civil registration of births, reducing backlogs at registration centers located in major cities, and establishing offices of vital records in smaller towns and neighborhoods.

Education: Primary education was compulsory for all children between six and 11 years of age. Public school education was tuition-free for primary school students and for female students in grade nine in secondary schools, but parents often voluntarily paid tuition for their children because many schools had insufficient funds. Girls did not have the same educational opportunities as boys, and the literacy rate for women was approximately 18 percent, compared with 50 percent for men. In some parts of the country, girls received no formal education. According to UNICEF, the net primary school enrollment rate in 2011-12 was approximately 79 percent for boys and 73 percent for girls. The enrollment rate for secondary education was 53 percent for boys and 42 percent for girls.

Child Abuse: Children suffered multiple forms of abuse, including rape, sexual harassment, and abduction. The Child Code bans a wide range of harmful practices such as forced marriage, sexual abuse, FGM/C, trafficking, labor exploitation, infanticide, illegal and prolonged detention, early pregnancy, and begging. The code also sets rules for national and international adoptions, children’s health care, and juvenile apprenticeships. The code provides for heavy fines and penalties with up to life imprisonment for convicted violators. The Central Office for Minors Protection in Cotonou arrested suspects and referred them to judicial authorities. In 2015 it provided temporary shelter to 820 identified victims of abuse.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits marriage under age 18 but grants exemptions for children ages 14 to 17 with parental consent and authorization of a judge. A 2014 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey sponsored by UNICEF and the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Analysis indicated that 8.8 percent of girls and women and 1.4 percent of boys and men ages 15 to 49 were married or were cohabitating with someone of the opposite sex before age 15. The proportion of women ages 20 to 49 who were married or who were cohabitating with someone of the opposite sex before age 18 was 31.7 percent, and the proportion of men in the same age range was 6.1 percent. Early and forced marriage included barter marriage and marriage by abduction. As part of forced marriage, the groom traditionally abducts and rapes his prospective child bride. The practice was widespread in rural areas, despite government and NGO efforts to end it through information sessions on the rights of women and children. Local NGOs reported some communities concealed the practice.

In 2014 the government approved a UNICEF-sponsored National Policy of Child Protection that outlines principal prevention strategies to address and respond to various forms of child violence and exploitation, including early and forced marriage. On June 24, WILDAF-Benin conducted a public campaign in the village of Sebiohoue in the commune of Djakotomey to raise awareness of early and forced marriage. Local officials and judges participated in the event by addressing the legal implications of early and forced marriage.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): See information for girls under 18 in women’s section above.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penal code provides penalties for conviction of rape, sexual exploitation, corruption of minors, and procuring and facilitating prostitution, and it increases penalties for cases involving children under age 15. The child trafficking law provides penalties for conviction of all forms of child trafficking, including child prostitution, prescribing penalties of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment. The act, however, focuses on prohibiting and punishing the movement of children rather than their ultimate exploitation. Individuals convicted of involvement in child prostitution, including those who facilitate and solicit it, face imprisonment of two to five years and fines of one million to 10 million CFA francs ($1,702 to $17,024). The law does not specifically prohibit child pornography. The de facto minimum age for consensual sex is 18.

Children were exploited in prostitution in some areas and subjected to sex trafficking in Cotonou. Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred. A 2009 report on the commercial sexual exploitation of children in 11 communes indicated that 43 percent of surveyed children (ages 12 to 17) who engaged in prostitution were also subjected to commercial sexual exploitation.

Through the traditional practice of vidomegon, which literally means “placed child,” poor, generally rural, children are placed in the home of a wealthier family for educational or vocational opportunities and a higher standard of living; abuse, however, including long hours of forced labor, inadequate food, and sexual exploitation, occurred (see section 7.c.).

Criminal courts meted out stiff sentences to persons convicted of crimes against children, but many such cases never reached the courts due to lack of awareness of the law and children’s rights, lack of access to courts, or fear of police involvement.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Despite widespread NGO campaigns, the traditional practices of killing breech babies, babies whose mothers died in childbirth, babies considered deformed, and one of each set of newborn twins (because they were considered sorcerers) continued in the north.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at


There was no known Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities in education, access to health care, or provision of other state services; the law, however, provides that the government care for persons with disabilities. There were no legal requirements for the construction or alteration of buildings to permit access for persons with disabilities. Legislation that addresses equality, equity, and nondiscrimination among all citizens is general in nature. Several laws, however, including the labor code, the social security code, the persons and family code, and the 2011 law establishing general rules for elections, contain specific references to persons with disabilities. The country also has a National Policy for the Protection and Integration of Persons with Disabilities. Children with mental, visual, and physical disabilities, however, suffered social exclusion and had no access to the conventional educational system.

The government operated few institutions to assist persons with disabilities. The Office for the Rehabilitation and the Insertion of Persons with Disabilities under the Ministry of Labor, Civil Service, and Social Affairs coordinated assistance to persons with disabilities through the Aid Fund for the Rehabilitation and Insertion of Persons with Disabilities (Fonds Ariph). An international donor-funded program was conducted by local NGOs to increase awareness of accessibility needs of voters with disabilities in the March presidential election. The program also included the construction of temporary ramps and other adaptations to provide access to polling sites for voters with disabilities.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

There are no laws explicitly criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual activity but such activity could be prosecuted under the public indecency provisions of the penal code. There were no reports of criminal or civil cases involving consensual same-sex sexual conduct or reports of societal discrimination or violence based on a person’s sexual orientation. Although homosexual behavior was socially discouraged, it was not prosecuted. A growing number of citizens were open regarding their sexual orientation or gender identity, but the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community remained largely disorganized and hidden. With the support of a regional LGBTI organization, 30 members from Beninese and Togolese LGBTI communities held a conclave in April 2015 in Cotonou to discuss problems pertaining to LGBTI conditions and rights.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Police generally ignored vigilante attacks, and incidents of mob violence occurred, in part due to the perceived failure of local courts to punish criminals adequately. Such cases generally involved mobs killing or severely injuring suspected criminals, particularly thieves caught stealing. On June 18, a mob of Klouekanme residents in the southwestern commune of Couffo burned to death three individuals arrested by gendarmes as part of an investigation to dismantle a criminal ring operating in the area. The mob intercepted the gendarme vehicle transporting the three suspects and dragged them out. From June 24 to June 26, three other similar incidents occurred in the cities of Cotonou, Abomey Calavi, and Djougou. On June 29, the Council of Ministers urged the minister of justice to increase measures to investigate, arrest, and prosecute individuals involved in lynching incidents throughout the country.

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